March 3, 2009

About the Photo

This bell tower belongs to the Cades Cove Primitive Baptist Church now preserved in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Though now nothing more than a museum it stands as a continuing testimony to the faith of the people who settled this beautiful valley in the southern Appalachian mountains. In fact, driving the 11 mile Cades Cove loop is something of an annual pilgrimage for my family and a stop at this church is a must on our trip. My Beloved is drawn to the cemetery as it chronicles the difficult and tragic lives of those who braved the wilderness to carve out a life. I am magnetically drawn to the edifice that once housed a thriving congregation.

As I sit in one of the rough pews in this little structure I am awe struck by a people compelled to invest energy in building such a place when it took such an immense effort to simply survive. Why would they do such a thing? Why not simply worship in homes or not at all?

Is it possible that their connection to the land instructed them about a deeper dependence?

Is it possible that this desperate group of pioneers was right in exerting unusual extravagance in a decidedly utilitarian existence to build a bell tower, not to outshine the Methodist's across the holler but to remind them to look up every now and then? Something tells me that this is near the mark. In lives marked by the steady rhythms of the seasons and the regular rhythm of work-6-days-and-rest-1 this tower served to guide them through each change and each fresh tragedy with the steady sureness of God.

I sit in that now empty church and strain to hear the hymns of praise being sung and the words of truth being proclaimed. Alas, there is only silence now. But in the stillness the voice of God whispers, "I AM." That marvelous bell tower continues to point heavenward, drawing the eyes of road weary tourists to look above the frustrations of traffic, noisy kids, flat tires, and the need to use the bathroom to consider the God who sustained these so long ago. Doubtless, some few stop long enough to hear.


sojourner said...

but we can still hear in the silence -- even the echoes of those who occupied the same space so many years ago -- even in our ponderings -- only if we take time to be still and reflect

So, you build boats -- like Gibbs (ncsi)? :0)

John said...

My wife said the same kind of thing. It is a holy space. I am continuing to develop my "theology of place." Jacob's awakening from a dream to declare "Surely the presence of the LORD is in this place and I knew it not." keeps gnawing at my mind.

Building boats...not so much! Merely admiring some handiwork.